Yesterday I found myself at a suburban pool for a Memorial Day shebang. I haven't been in that situation for a very long time – since I was nineteen actually. Ruth is nineteen in the novel, and I've been very open about the fact that Ruth is, for better or worse, very much (if not exactly) like the nineteen year old me. As I sat and dangled my feet in the water and surveyed the scene, I felt a lot of emotions. At thirty-five now, things are so different than they were sixteen years ago, and yet – somehow the same.
Behind me, in the shade, my sweet baby boy was sleeping under the watchful eye of my mother in law. In front of me, my husband bobbed in the water as kids of all ages splashed around him. There were four lifeguards on duty, and I watched them quietly. How young and bored they looked. Did I look like that once upon a time? What were they thinking about? Were they daydreaming about exes and college life? Nursing hangovers? Who were they when they weren't twirling that whistle listlessly and mouthing the words to the songs the deejay was playing? I wondered.
To my left, a group of three middle school girls, all of them wearing braces, were engaged in a heated discussion about a boy named John. Meanwhile, two middle school boys, neither of them John, took turns cannon balling around them. The girls did not look up. Another middle schooler, as long and thin as a giraffe, strolled self consciously by me on the deck, her flat belly white as snow. Keep your shoudlers back, I wanted to whisper to her. Standing in the shallow end was an awkward looking high school girl with her eyes downcast - her black curly hair, alabaster skin and generous eyebrows standing out like sore thumbs against the blonde and tanned sea around her. Don't worry, I wanted to tell her, it will get better. You will bloom late, and when you are thirty-five like me, you will be so glad for it. I swear.
Looking around at my peers – all parents now – I felt a little like Ruth again. My suit was all wrong, my post-partum body sagged defeatedly, and my hair was wild and dark. I sucked my stomach in self-consciously. Behind me, my son cried – up from his nap – and I exhaled.